Tuesday 20 March 2018

'I won't win any popularity contests' - Honest Philly McMahon the ultimate team player

Dubs star on why not winning the approval of his inter-county peers won't cause him to lose any sleep

Referee David Gough has words with McMahon during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Dublin and Kerry
Referee David Gough has words with McMahon during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Dublin and Kerry
Philly McMahon insists neither he nor his Dublin team-mates are thinking about the team's legacy Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

It can be hard to equate Philly McMahon the marauding, rule-bending defender with Philly McMahon the business-running charity founder.

In that regard, church and state are kept separate. It seems the only place the man and the footballer meet is in his diary. There, the version of himself he needs to be is marked out in distinct colours.

The parts of his day marked out in yellow indicate time dedicated to the things he wants to pursue for himself such as his businesses: gyms and a healthy food company. The sky blue sections are devoted to football.

Needless to say, this couple of weeks have been almost all blue.

"I have a thing called a default diary so I separate different things in my life - sport, the personal side, the professional side," he outlines.

"It's funny, you basically look at different colours of your roster for the week. At the start of the season, if work was yellow, it would be full, because it's January and the fitness craze happens.

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"But, as the season goes on, that colour might change to blue because it's football season then."

He's a busy man. And as such, an interview with McMahon can go to a myriad of places. He can talk about the "stigma" associated with growing up and living in Ballymun. And he can speak in depth about the lack of support for recovering drug addicts, something that has prompted him to found a charity.

'Half Time Talk' is in the process of getting registered but when it's up and running it will attempt to establish "a continuum from drug awareness education right through to recovery for the individual and the family," McMahon explains.

So there's been plenty to keep him going these few weeks. Plenty to keep an active mind busy. This is McMahon's third All-Ireland final but he still likes to keep the diary full.

"I like keeping occupied. I don't want to have time on my hands so that I can over-think things," he says.

Off the field, things look to be going well for McMahon. He has eight people working for him at the minute and there are a couple of "big projects" on the horizon.

On the field too, he's on the up. Last year was his first time to start an entire championship season and win the All-Ireland, something he had marked out as a personal goal. So it's his experience that success on the field doesn't necessarily come at the expense of success off it. In fact, one can inform the other.

"I always ask the question to myself: would my companies be where they are today if I hadn't got the GAA connection with Dublin?" he says.

"Or the time I spent training and playing with the team, if I put that into the businesses, where would I get?

"There's a balance. When you look at the '70s team, you realise that the success they had, maybe from the Dublin network or the GAA network, helped them develop their careers.

"We have two business owners, at the minute, on the Dublin team, myself and Bernard (Brogan).

"The rest are doing really well. It's a great thing about GAA, that we develop a career during our sporting career."

On Sunday, he'll emerge as McMahon the footballer. Most people expect him to be detailed to pick up Aidan O'Shea, as he did in last year's drawn semi-final and replay. McMahon did well to keep the previously rampant Breaffy man on the periphery of the game and he followed that up by outscoring Colm 'Gooch' Cooper in the final.

Such was McMahon's influence on those games that he was nominated for the Footballer of the Year award. He missed out, but that was probably to be expected. That gong is voted for by the players. And who is going to vote for McMahon, a man seemingly never too far away from the flashpoint.

"That's what it is, isn't it? It is a popularity contest," he says of Footballer of the Year. "Sure I won't be the most popular county footballer throughout my career. I accept that, once I can do my bit for the team.

"Look, a lot of people say, and you hear it all the time at the All-Star awards, 'oh I don't really care, I wanted to win for the team'. I actually didn't care if I didn't win it, I honestly can say that.

"Because I've seen footballers that should have won All-Stars and they didn't. There's people have won All-Stars that shouldn't have. So I don't really care about it, I honestly don't.

"I like to think I'm a nice person off the pitch. On the pitch, I'm there to do what I can to help my team win."

Win and Dublin will light a fire under the conversation as to where they stand among the great teams. McMahon is on message with the rest of the Dublin camp when he says that prospect doesn't hold much appeal for him.

"I don't play football for that reason. I don't think most of the lads do. We didn't start off playing for Dublin to be 'the great Dublin team'," he says.

"Like, I started on the Dublin team when we had nowhere near a chance of winning an All-Ireland. Anyone that speaks about being 'the next great Dublin team' is probably outside of our circle anyway. Because we don't think about that.

"A legacy for me would be playing for Dublin. It wouldn't be saying afterwards, 'I'm the great Dublin player'. That would be disrespectful to all the Dublin players that have come before us.

"They've put the shift in that we've put in and just because we've got the bit of tin at the end of it doesn't mean we deserve any (more) respect.

"Now that's probably hard to understand from the outside, from someone that's not a player. But I respect the players that have played before me and that will come after me.

"That's the legacy that I personally want to leave, that I did my bit for Dublin GAA. Not that I was there to be the great player or on the great team of Dublin."

Irish Independent

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